Indiana’s Vehicular Manslaughter Laws and Penalties

A motorist who drives negligently or recklessly in Indiana and kills another person may face manslaughter charges.

Unlike many other states, Indiana doesn’t have a “vehicular homicide” statute that applies exclusively to driving-related unlawful killings. However, a motorist who causes the death of another person while driving recklessly can be charged with “reckless homicide.” And Indiana law imposes enhanced penalties for OWI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated) offenses that result in the death of another person.

Reckless homicide. A motorist can be convicted of reckless homicide for killing another person while driving in a reckless manner. Basically, a person acts with recklessness by engaging in conduct that involves “plain, conscious, and unjustifiable disregard of harm that might result and such conduct involves a substantial deviation from acceptable standards of conduct.” In other words, the person is aware of the dangerousness of the conduct but decides to do it anyway.

(Ind. Code Ann. § 35-42-1-5 (2017); Nordstrom v. State, 627 N.E.2d 1380 (1994).)

Driving while intoxicated. For purposes of enhanced OWI penalties, intoxication is defined as having:

(Ind. Code Ann. §§ 9-13-2-86, 9-30-5-5 (2017).)

Penalties

The consequences of a driving-related killing depend on the circumstances. But generally, the possible penalties include:

  • Reckless homicide. Reckless homicide is a level 5 felony. Convicted motorists face one to six years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
  • OWI-related killings. Generally, an OWI-related killing is a level 5 felony and carries one to six years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. However, an OWI-related killing is a level 4 felony if the driver has a prior OWI conviction that occurred within the past ten years, was driving on a suspended or revoked license (because of an OWI or being a “habitual violator”), or was at least 21 years old and had a BAC of at least .15% or a Schedule I or II controlled substance in the blood. A level 4 felony carries two to 12 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

(Ind. Code Ann. §§ 35-42-1-5, 35-50-2-6, 35-50-2-5.5 (2017).)

HOW MUCH TIME WOULD YOU ACTUALLY SPEND IN JAIL?

Sentencing law is complex. For example, a statute might list a “minimum” jail sentence that’s longer than the actual amount of time (if any) a defendant will have to spend behind bars. All kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including credits for good in-custody behavior, “suspended” sentences, and jail-alternative work programs.

If you face criminal charges, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with command of the rules in your jurisdiction will be able to explain the law as it applies to your situation.

Talk to a Criminal Defense Attorney

The consequences of killing another person while driving can be serious. If you’ve been arrested for a driving-related killing—or any other crime—get in contact with a criminal defense attorney right away. The facts of every case are different. An experienced defense attorney can explain how the law applies to the facts of your case and help you decide on the best plan of action. 

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